What Happened When I Cooked Like Joanna Gaines for a Week

When Chip and Joanna Gaines start throwing brown speckled kitchen counters into the front yard on Demo Day, nothing makes me want to start ripping up carpet more. Then I end up elbows deep in a bookcase build that makes no sense to me, and I start to wonder just how she does it all. For me, “Fixer Upper” isn’t just a design show on HGTV, it’s a thoughtful lifestyle that the Gaines have carved out of the Texas countryside in Waco. I might not be the next star interior decorator, but as I began to look through Magnolia Market, I realized I had made a handful of Joanna Gaines’ recipes before (this banana bread recipe was my favorite). So maybe the answer to living like Joanna Gaines was really in cooking like Joanna Gaines. And just like that, I decided to spend a week eating like her.

While Waco might send you into dreams of Dr Pepper and heavy Texas fare like brisket and queso, Joanna eats a fairly clean, wholesome diet. She sticks to real ingredients, most often grown on the Gaines’ farm and picked with their four kids. Many of her recipes highlight the fresh season at hand, and since it was summer, that meant tomatoes and summer squash abound. I myself had fallen off the healthy eating wagon with traveling in the last few weeks of the summer and was eager to get back in the kitchen.

I learned the first step to eating like Joanna Gaines is to meal plan the heck out of your week. I sat down and mapped out the week. I knew I would make a large breakfast recipe that I could eat throughout the week, and four hearty dinners that would be delicious, Joanna-approved, and would also give me leftovers to each for lunch every weekday.

I used the Wide Open Eats printable for meal planning that I use every week. It turns out that Joanna also champions the use of a meal guide, only she takes a photo of hers for the supermarket, and sticks the hard copy on the refrigerator for reference. So, like a good Texan, I headed to H-E-B with my list and reusable bags in tow (Joanna Gaines would never forget hers! Maybe).

Breakfasts

Power Balls

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When I heard that Joanna is fueled by coffee, I immediately knew I had picked the right person to emulate to get my diet back on track. On Sunday afternoon, I whipped together a batch of Joanna’s Power Balls to eat for breakfast throughout the week. They were so easy and I didn’t even have to turn on the oven. Basically you combine all of the ingredients together, roll into balls, and store in the refrigerator. This was the easiest meal prep I had ever done.

Every morning, I had a banana, a few power balls, and a glass of sparkling iced coffee because it’s hot in Texas and I am obsessed with anything that fizzes. I loved the power balls at first… but by Thursday morning, I was craving a breakfast taco like you wouldn’t believe. I skipped it because I’m sure Joanna doesn’t give into all of her cravings (do you, Jo?). Eventually they became too sweet to enjoy for breakfast, and I even nixed the chocolate chips she suggested in the recipe.

Smoked Salmon on Sourdough

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I went a little rogue on Saturday morning as my time of eating like Joanna came to an end and piled smoked salmon on toasted sourdough bread. Red onion and fresh dill accentuated the cream cheese and salmon combination, and it was amazing. I was inspired to go seafood after I saw this Instagram post.

Go big or go home. #lobsterandsteak @epicsteak

A post shared by Joanna Stevens Gaines (@joannagaines) on

I, too, have looked at the surf and turf plate about to be placed in front of me and felt reaffirmed in my life decisions. We’re kindred spirits.

Lunches

Homemade Salsa + Leftovers

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My household is a leftovers home, and I can only imagine that the Gaines’ is the same way. As I snacked on the previous night’s dinner of stuffed quinoa peppers from the Minimalist Baker, because Spanish stuffed peppers sounds just like a Joanna classic, I also brought along the batch of homemade salsa, made from her recipe.

Would I make this again? I already have! As she says, tomatoes are abundant in her home garden and appear in quite a few of her recipes. The more recipes I made, the more I learned just how important eating from the garden was to the Gaines family.

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I love a good salsa recipe because even if your tomatoes are about to turn funky, it’s an easy way to use the leftover herbs and aromatics you have hanging around the house.

I kept that jar of salsa in the refrigerator all week (except Thursday), and on Friday, when I was sadly coming to the end of it, I added tomatoes and red onions to my grocery list because it’s now become a necessity in my refrigerator.

A Cheat Meal

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On Thursday, I hit a wall with leftovers. I had forgotten to repack tortilla chips for that divine homemade salsa, so I headed out to find the closest Joanna meal I could. I knew she was a big fan of smoothies in the morning for breakfast and also as power boosts throughout the day, but I needed something solid.

I picked up a snack box of tomatoes, cucumbers, crackers, and pimento cheese. Hey, had to get the Southern twist in there somewhere. I figured the combination of fresh ingredients with a deliciously creamy, cheesy component fit Joanna’s bill. After all, she is from a state where queso is basically its own food group. And as for the fruit leather. Well, can you blame me?

Dinners

Farmer’s Margherita Pizza

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Dinner is where things always get dicy for me in the middle of the week. Often after working out and settling in at home, I feel lazy enough to make a PBJ sandwich and call it a night. This week, I challenged myself to be better because, dang it, if I can’t eat more wholesome for Joanna, then who would I ever eat well for? On Sunday night, I made her Farmer’s Margherita Pizza that was so easy, it put being pre-made dough to shame.

Sure, Joanna asks you to go au natural and make it yourself, but don’t be afraid. It felt like a foolproof recipe with no yeast and I’m notorious for, in the words of The Great British Bake-Off, the under-bake.

Spanish Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

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While Joanna definitely features more dessert recipes than dinners, I freestyled from food bloggers that I know and love to pad out the dinner portion. That’s where this delicious Spanish quinoa stuffed peppers from the Minimalist Baker. With 10 ingredients, including seasonings, this recipe was so easy to cook up that the only part that took time was the quinoa.

Heirloom Tomato & Herb Salad

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It’s still hot as ever here in Texas so keeping meals fresh and simple without much oven time is a big factor in keeping me happy through the week. When I saw this Heirloom Tomato & Herb Salad from Dishing up the Dirt, I knew it would fit into my Joanna meal plan perfectly. As a professed lover of tomatoes, I knew those beautiful heirlooms I picked up would be put to their tastiest use.

I had never fried chickpeas or capers before until I made this recipe, and it was an eye-opening experience for me. While they’re filling and tasty without much effort, frying them in my cast iron skillet gave them a new flavor life that was smoky and warm. Oh, and how pretty was this salad? Joanna would be proud.

Summer Squash Frittata

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Whenever I want something quick, easy, and healthy, I go with a frittata. It’s nearly impossible to ruin, unless you leave it under the broiler too long (guilty once… or twice), and it makes for a delicious recipe when you pair it with the right seasonal vegetables. Before summer squash goes away forever, I decided to make this Martha Stewart version. I didn’t have marjoram, so I skipped it, as one does when they’re cooking a Martha Stewart recipe. Sorry, Martha!

The Big Reveal

So how did I feel after eating like Joanna Gaines for a week? Stellar. I increased my workout routine to four times a week and ate whole grains, vegetables, and very little processed foods. How could I not feel incredible? But the real lesson I learned from this week experiment was that it’s so easy, anyone can do itIt can be hard to get a grip on planning out our lives during the rush of it all, but I found that by mapping out exactly what I would be eating for the week and knowing all of the ingredients were in my pantry and refrigerator, I could relax and think about one less thing during the day.

I felt productive and energized at work, and with every recipe of Joanna’s I made, I felt full throughout the day. Is it something I’ll continue to keep up with? Sure, I was a little sore after doubling my workout sessions, but I was motivated. The best advice I can offer is to just live every day like you’re Joanna Gaines. Or eating like her, at least.

This post was originally published in September 2017.

Watch: The Texan’s Rules of the Table